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The Church of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and Shrine of the Little Flower in Nasonville, is the only officially recognized Shrine in the state of Rhode Island. The parish began as a mission under the jurisdiction of St. John’s Church, in Slatersville. For close to fifty years, a Priest would travel by horse and buggy from Slatersville, to offer Mass each Sunday in a former schoolhouse building owned by the Wanskuck Company Woolen Mills.
On August 23, 1923, Bishop William A. Hickey announced the creation of a new parish to care for the spiritual welfare of Catholics in the villages of Nasonville, Mohegan, Mount Pleasant, and Tarklin. Rev. A-P Desrochers was named pastor. Fr. Desrochers said Mass and met with his parishioners for the first time on Sunday, August 26. At the suggestion of Bishop Hickey, the parish took the soon-to-be Sainted, Thérèse of Lisieux as its patroness.
Mrs. Florilda Faford, of Mohegan, was used by God to help the small parish receive its distinction as a Shrine. Following Fr. Desrochers appointment as pastor, he was called to the bedside of Mrs. Faford, whose illness was considered incurable. Mrs. Faford had been sick for eight years and had undergone several surgeries, after which hope of her recovery had been abandoned by her doctors in Boston.
Fr. Desrochers asked Mrs. Faford to place herself in the hands of the recently beatified Thérèse of Lisieux, the parishes new patron. The priest then said prayers over her, and when he visited the next day, she was well enough to converse with him. She also received a particle of the Sacred Host.
That same day at 1:30 in the afternoon, Mrs. Faford got up from her bed, unaided, for the first time in months, and walked to the kitchen, where a sister, who had been caring for her, almost fainted from surprise. For the first time in many months, Mrs. Faford asked for and ate a substantial meal. Doctors who had been trying to treat her for years admitted Mrs. Faford’s recovery was nothing short of miraculous.
Mrs. Faford would go on to live well into her 80's and to support the development of the Shrine including funding the acquisition of its first statue of St. Thérèse.
On November 6, 1924, ground was broken for the three buildings that now make up the parish property, a combination church and school, a rectory, and a convent. The buildings were dedicated by Bishop Hickey on Sunday, October 4, 1925, and placed under the patronage of the newly canonized St. Thérèse of Lisieux. The Sisters of the Assumption from Nicolet, Canada arrived on July 15, 1926 and the school, housed above the church, opened in September of the same year.
Misfortune struck the parish when on Holy Saturday, 1927, the church was seriously damaged by a fire. Masses continued to be held in the convent and church hall while repairs were undertaken, and the church was rededicated on Sunday, August 14, 1927.
Over the course of 1927 and into 1928, Fr. Desrochers worked to construct an outdoor chapel. As the cultus of St. Thérèse and word of Mrs. Faford's miraculous healing began to spread, the numbers of pilgrim visitors increased significantly.
The Holy Stairs and Stations of the Cross
On October 5, 1934, Fr. Adelard Laliberte succeeded Fr. Desrochers as the second pastor of St. Thérèse Church and Shrine of the Little Flower. Fr. Laliberte built a set of Holy Stairs, including a reproduction of the Limpias Crucifix from Spain, and outdoor Stations of the Cross. Nearly 5,000 people attended the dedication of the Holy Stairs and the Limpias Crucifix, at which Msgr. Peter A Foley, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church, Pawtucket, represented Bishop Francis P. Keough.
Fr. Gedeon I. Lambert, was appointed pastor at Nasonville, on October 17, 1935, succeeding Father Laliberte. Fr. Lambert directed several improvements to the shrine, to make it more accessible to pilgrims. He had signs placed on principal highways pointing the way to the shrine and built a new road around the church. Fr. Lambert also established an oratory in the church and had the reproduction of the Limpias Crucifix, originally located at the top of the Holy Stairs, moved into the church. Fr. Lambert organized several pilgrimages to the shrine with as many as 7,000 people present on a single occasion.
In July, 1941, he began a construction program to replace the outdoor, wooden, Stations of the Cross with new tablets of plaster cast over concrete. These were created by Amedeo Nardini, of the Caproni Galleries in Boston. Stones for structures to hold the stations came from around the state and country, including Colorado and New Hampshire.
Fr. Lambert was succeeded after his death on August 31, 1945 by Fr. Lionel Dion. Fr. Dion reconstructed the entrance of the church and replaced the Holy Stairs with 28 steps, made of field stone, limestone and granite. These were patterned after the Scala Sancta in Rome, which are believed to be the steps leading up to the praetorium of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem that Christ mounted and descended on his way to trial during his Passion. The Shrine's Holy Stairs were dedicated in a solemn ceremony on July 15, 1956, by Msgr. Stephen Grenier.
Fr. Dion also replaced the outdoor chapel with a new structure made of Vermont granite and marble and Tennessee crab orchard stones. This was built by Peter Kapas of Pascoag, and also dedicated by Msgr. Grenier. On April 13, 1962, Fr. Dion went to his eternal reward.
The next pastor was the Rev. George L Girouard. In 1963, Fr. Girouard renovated the Church, the convent, the rectory and the school. Fr. Girouard remained pastor until 1968 and was succeeded by Rev. Henri D. Morin. Fr. Morin oversaw some difficult times for the parish. In 1969, St. Thérèse’s School closed it’s doors for the last time after contributing 43 years to Catholic Education in Northern Rhode Island. The Sisters of the Assumption who had staffed the school, were re-assigned outside the diocese. During Fr. Morin’s pastorate, a fire struck the churches sacristy.
In 1972, Rev. Lucien Ledoux succeeded Fr. Morin as pastor of St. Thérèse Church and the Shrine. In 1973, to mark the occasion of the parishes 50th Anniversary, there was a special con-celebrated Mass with Bishop Louis E. Gelineau as principal celebrant and homilist. Due to the failing health of Fr. Ledoux in the late 70's, general maintenance of the Shrine precinct began to be neglected. The grounds became overrun with weeds, overgrown trees, and the devotional areas began to decay.
When Rev. Robert Carpentier was appointed pastor in 1981, one of his major objectives was to see to the restoration of the Shrine. During his tenure, the church interior was again 'renovated' and a new vestibule was added to the entrance of the church building. Yearly devotions and outdoor Masses were held at the Shrine grounds. Parishioners began weeding, cutting trees, planting flowers and undertaking other needed maintenance projects.
In 1991, Rev. John P. Deary was appointed to succeed Fr. Carpentier. Fr. Deary also had the Shrine’s restoration at the top of his priorities, leading the rebuilding and refurbishment of many of the stone Stations of the Cross which had fallen into disrepair since their construction in the 40's.
St. Thérèse’s Shrine 1990s- Present
During the summer of 1994, Mr. Jerry Finelli approached Fr. Deary with a desire to build an outdoor 15-decade rosary. Fr. Deary gave his blessing with the stipulation that Mr. Finelli would find the money to see the project to completion. In a little over one month, Jerry and his wife, Shirley had raised the funds necessary for the Rosary project. During that summer, the Finelli’s together with a number of other parishioners, cleared the woods behind the stations and outdoor altar to build the Rosary and the fountain capped by a statue of Our Lady Queen of Peace. During his administration, Fr. Deary appointed Jerry and Shirley Finelli co-chairs of the Shrine.
On August 21, 1994, an annual feast for the Shrine's founding was reintroduced. Fr. Deary passed away suddenly on December 4, 1996. From 1997 through 2004, the parish was under the leadership of several pastors. During this time, multiple projects were undertaken and the Shrine as we see it today took shape. A copy of the Pietà was added by the Knights of Columbus to the side of the Holy Stair. In addition, rooms dedicated to the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Mother, the Divine Mercy, and the Tomb of Jesus were constructed under the Holy Stairs. A Garden of the Saints was also added.
In June 2004, Fr. Gerard Caron was appointed the new pastor of St. Thérèse. In addition to general upkeep and maintenance, Fr. Caron returned the tabernacle to the center of the sanctuary and added a picture of the Divine Mercy to the former altar of St. Joseph.
In 2015, pastor of Our Lady of Good Help Church in Mapleville, Fr. Michael J. McMahon, received an additional appointment as pastor of St. Thérèse Church and Shrine when the two parishes were yoked. Fr. McMahon spearheaded multiple ongoing maintenance and restoration projects in both the Church and Shrine Precinct. These include the installation of a wooden sanctuary floor and the uncovering of medallions in the Church floor, multiple improvements to the parish offices, parking area upgrades, and in summer of 2021, significant masonry repairs to the Holy Stairs. Fr. McMahon oversaw a campaign of major cleanup and repair in both the Shrine and the Church in the winter and spring of 2022, these included HVAC system upgrades, complete electrical repair in the outdoor shrine, and improvements to the water pump system. He also led an overhaul of the Church Hall Kitchens to better welcome guests and the revamping of the Shrine Bookstore and Gift Shop with an eye toward offering all of St. Thérèse's writings and fair-trade Catholic items.
In May of 2022, Fr. McMahon received an appointment from Bp. Thomas Tobin to lead St. Philips Church and School in Greenville. Fr. Jose Parathanal, CMI began his ministry with us on July 1, 2022. Fr. Parathanal is the first Carmelite father to lead the Shrine. Fr. Parathanal has begun his tenure at the Shrine by undertaking the creation of a new Rosary Walk. Following the destruction of the original walk during a major storm in 2019, various rebuilding scenarios were proposed. Fr. Parathanal comes to the Shrine with a vision for a much larger, much more durable monument and hopes to break ground in the Spring of 2023, ahead of the Shrine's 100th Anniversary Celebration.
The first Shrine in North America dedicated to St. Thérèse of Lisieux continues to be a place of quiet refuge and spiritual refreshment for all who visit. We look forward to writing the coming chapters of this history.
35 Dion Dr, Harrisville, Rhode Island 02830, United States